What is to be done about Sudan? For 18 years, a devastating war has taken a horrifying human toll in Africa's largest country. Best estimates are two million dead, four million uprooted, out of a population of some 35 million. The government in Khartoum regularly bombs clinics, schools, and food stations in the southern part of the country and in the Nuba Mountains. Its forces (and irregulars tied to them) still engage in slave raids. Famine and disease are its allies in efforts to bring the south, which is largely African racially and Christian or animist in religion, under the full control of the Arab and Muslim north. As a local bishop put it to me during a visit to Sudan last year, "They are trying to blow out the candle" of Christianity in Sudan. Today the U.N.'s World Food Program says three million people in Sudan face hunger or starvation. It is a calamity.

The new element inside Sudan is oil production, with significant revenues ($ 500 million in 2000) beginning to flow to Khartoum and fueling its war. Oil, moreover, is an incentive for the government to dominate the south, where it is clearing out large inhabited areas for exploration and production. The sober Economist magazine of London in April called these methods "brutal"; the British charity Christian Aid has spoken of "a systematic scorched earth policy."

The new element inside the United States is the attention being given to Sudan. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said "there is no greater tragedy on the face of the Earth than the one unfolding in Sudan," and he has been asked about Sudan every time he has appeared before Congress. Nongovernmental organizations, from Freedom House and the Anti-Slavery Group to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Family Research Council, are lobbying Congress, and a delegation of Catholic bishops newly returned from Sudan has called on the United States to take "a central role" in ending the war. The NAACP has spoken out, as have the Carter Center and President Carter personally. Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship and Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse (which operates medical clinics there) have discussed Sudan with President Bush. None other than the Reverend Al Sharpton visited Sudan in April and has announced that Michael Jackson will accompany him on a return trip.

In reaction to all this, the president has mentioned the tragedy of southern Sudan several times during his short tenure, and Secretary Powell has held long meetings at the State Department to explore what might be done. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has dedicated more time to that country than to any other. And the issue is the subject of an immense web of Internet contacts that supply up-to-date information about events there.

So the question remains, What can be done? The United States already has in place comprehensive trade sanctions against Sudan, imposed because of the regime's support for terrorism. While we maintain diplomatic relations, we do not staff our embassy there. How can we further isolate Khartoum? Or should the policy of isolation be abandoned, the embassy reopened, and negotiations begun?

An effective U.S. policy toward Sudan -- one capable of changing the situation in the south and affecting the lives of its people -- will require top-level attention and a great deal of energy. It should have three elements: aid, diplomacy, and financial disclosure. The recommendations of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its March 21, 2001, report on Sudan, form the basis for my analysis, and are available in full at the commission's website, www.uscirf.gov.

* Aid: Addressing the desperate humanitarian situation should be the starting point for any new Sudan initiative. The problem of food aid is complicated not only by difficult logistics, but by Khartoum's brazen use of food as a weapon, even to starve out its opponents. The regime has veto power over food deliveries in Sudanese territory by the U.N.'s Operation Lifeline Sudan. An immediate goal of U.S. policy should be the delivery of food and medicine where they are needed, not where Khartoum desires. This means that the U.N. program, while invaluable, cannot be the only conduit for food. Roughly one-third of all U.S. aid (which totals about $ 100 million per year) now flows outside Operation Lifeline Sudan, and that percentage should continue to rise. The United States should help strengthen nongovernmental humanitarian agencies working in Sudan so that they can handle an increased flow of aid.

Moreover, Washington's new STAR (Sudan Transitional Assistance for Rehabilitation) program, aimed at helping build administrative capacity and "civil society" in the south, should be nurtured. The idea is to help local communities improve their food production and security, but the $ 3 million available last year was far too little. Finally, Congress has authorized direct non-military aid (medicine, trucks, radios) to groups in the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of opposition groups from all parts of Sudan, the strongest of which is the Sudan People's Liberation Army. This help should be provided. It is aimed at building up the opposition groups' capacity to participate in a reinvigorated peace process and protect the people of the south from military attack. If we can enable a rebel group, for example, to radio ahead to warn others about bombers overhead or marauders and slavers in the area, we should do so.

* Diplomacy: The United States, in the Commission's words, should "launch a major diplomatic initiative aimed at enlisting international pressure to stop the Sudanese government's bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets," slave raids, and other depredations.

Given the enormity of the humanitarian crisis, business-as-usual diplomacy is not enough. Many NGOs, the Catholic bishops, and the Commission as well, have called for the appointment of a "special envoy" for Sudan. The theory is that other officials are too busy to give this crisis the time it deserves. What is more, a high-level envoy with access to the president and secretary of state will get more done in the administration and with Congress, and can better convey to foreign governments how seriously the Bush administration takes this desperate situation. The model here is the role former Senate majority leader George Mitchell played for Northern Ireland, or that former secretary of state James Baker had in the Western Sahara dispute.

The key point, however, is not the mechanism, but the goal: putting far more American diplomatic energy into Sudan. For example, we should call a special U.N. Security Council meeting every time Sudan bombs a clinic or school in the south (copying a tactic Arab governments have used, or misused, for decades against Israel). This would engage the diplomatic world, show that the United States will not allow this war to slip into obscurity again, and possibly pressure Khartoum into slowing or stopping such attacks. The president might send his envoy throughout Europe, and perhaps to Japan and other allied states, to enlist help. Ronald Reagan did this regarding Soviet Jewry, sending Walter Stoessel, who had been ambassador to Germany and Russia, throughout Europe to let those governments know that the improvements they sought in U.S.-Soviet relations were impossible unless they persuaded the Russians to treat Soviet Jews better.

With Canadian and Swedish oil companies operating in Sudan, there is good reason to press those governments far harder, and to use every available forum -- the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, summits with Hemispheric or European or Asian leaders -- to discuss the human rights disaster in Sudan. If the president of the United States says that attacks on civilians, starvation, and denial of religious freedom in Sudan are important international issues, they become so.

Then, diplomatic efforts to achieve some sort of settlement become far more practical. These might be conducted through a revived Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an organization of six East African nations, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The IGAD "Partners' Forum" includes the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Although IGAD itself has achieved nothing recently, its Declaration of Principles for a solution in Sudan, adopted in 1994, remains a very good framework for diplomacy, with its call for an immediate cease-fire and its commitment to a Sudan that is "multi-racial, -ethnic, -religious and multi-cultural," with "a secular and democratic state" respecting "freedom of belief and worship and religious practice." The declaration also announces "the right of self-determination of the people of South Sudan to determine their future status through a referendum."

One grave weakness of IGAD is that Egypt stands outside it. Cairo is absolutely opposed to a referendum that might split Sudan and leave the Upper Nile in new hands, and has recruited Libya in a new "peace initiative" of its own. CSIS, in its February 2001 task force report on Sudan, gave up on IGAD and proposed instead a new collaborative effort including, "for example, the UK, Norway, and Sudan's neighbors" and led more or less by the United States. "Without a dedicated U.S. commitment to a determined international push for peace in Sudan," the report said, no new coalition will succeed. It should operate from the IGAD Declaration of Principles, and should aim at an interim agreement that would "preserve a single Sudan with two viable systems, north and south."

This would be an extremely complex diplomatic effort, reminiscent of Chester Crocker's extraordinary southern Africa balancing act during the Reagan administration. The indispensable ingredient would be the United States's commitment to stopping the war, stopping slavery, and seeking a just peace.

* Oil: Peace in Sudan seems further away today than it was a few years ago because of the discovery of commercial quantities of oil. Sudan's oil reserves are estimated at 1.2 billion barrels and are expected to rise to 2 or 3 billion with more exploration, making the country a middle-ranking producer like Ecuador or Malaysia. These reserves provide a glimmer of hope for the nation's future: Were oil revenues turned toward economic development, toward building schools and hospitals instead of bombing them, the people of Sudan might escape desperate poverty. But today, oil is truly the fuel of Sudan's wars, increasing Khartoum's ability and desire to crush the south. So the immediate goal must be to stop or slow, not assist, oil development. A Nuer tribal chief put it this way: "Before oil, our region was peaceful. People were cultivating their cattle. When the pumping began, the war began. Antonovs and helicopter gunships began attacking the villages -- sometimes four times every day. All the farms have been destroyed. Everything around the oil fields has been destroyed. Oil has brought death."

Oil is both the carrot and the stick we can use in dealing with Khartoum. We can offer to end some of our sanctions and permit American oil companies to participate in Sudan's oil industry if the regime ends the war. If it doesn't, we should not only maintain our sanctions but enact new ones aimed at the oil industry. Right now, U.S. economic sanctions prohibit American companies from working or investing in Sudan. But they allow foreign companies active in Sudan -- like Talisman of Canada, TotalFina/ELF of France, Lundin Oil of Sweden, or the China National Petroleum Company -- to raise capital in the United States, as all have done.

The Commission has recommended closing this loophole in our sanctions and forcing non-U.S. companies to choose: Be in Sudan, or be in our capital markets. The Bush administration initially rejected this proposal, but a weaker variation may prosper, a law requiring foreign oil companies to disclose fully their activities in Sudan.

Today, foreign companies can hide the nature and extent of their involvement in vague phrasing. Stiffer legislation could expose how their activities are related to human rights violations -- the removal of civilian populations from oil producing areas, policing by government troops, provision of company resources to the local police or military, and so on. Such information would have many uses. It would aid the Treasury Department in enforcing sanctions, and it would allow members of the public to avoid investing in Sudan's humanitarian disaster. Talisman's role in Sudan has become a scandal in Canada, as Lundin's should in Sweden. Institutional investors who wish to avoid controversy -- denunciations by clergy, marches at headquarters, protests at annual meetings -- might be persuaded to skip these stocks and bonds. No one needs to buy into oppression in Sudan.

It is now popular in Washington to say that unilateral sanctions don't work (though the governments of Sudan and Cuba certainly act as if our sanctions worked -- they campaign against them full-time). Even if this were true, it should only encourage us to push for multilateral sanctions against Sudan. Sweden and Canada, in particular, are not lost causes. As part of an overall plan for peace in Sudan, these countries might agree to certain concessions. Already a host of Canadian church and human rights groups have denounced Canadian industry's role in Sudan and are pressuring Ottawa to act. If this works in Canada, it might in Europe as well. At least let us try, again, and harder.

The economic sanctions now in place were imposed because of Sudan's support for terrorism. That support continues, and while it does, no change in bilateral relations is possible. But Sudan's crimes are inextricably linked. The Islamist regime that bombs churches in the south also gives comfort to Islamic terrorists. The oil that fuels the internal war also funds terrorist groups. The same carrots, and the same sticks, are useful in addressing Khartoum's internal war and its support for terrorism.

But are those incentives and disincentives enough to move Khartoum? Do Sudan's leaders want a possible bundle of carrots -- trade with and investment from the United States, full access to the World Bank and IMF, and debt relief -- enough to stop the war and allow some degree of autonomy for the south? Do they fear losing their grip on power and seek a settlement for selfish reasons? Do they fear a growing "Sudan movement" in America capable of moving the Bush administration, even someday to the point of extending aid to Sudanese rebels? For this is the logical progression: If the proposed measures fail to produce progress and the carnage continues, there will be only two options. One is to turn away. The other is to strengthen the opposition in its war for survival, with the goal of changing the regime in Khartoum or dividing the country.

There is today no demonstrable answer to all these questions about U.S. policy or the potential reactions in Khartoum. The immense complexity of the situation is a caution, but suggests the urgency of new and greater efforts, rather than the abandonment of the cause. For Sudan is a test. Under the first President Bush, just as the Cold War was ending, the United States acted swiftly and successfully to protect the international order against a very clear case of aggression by Iraq. Admittedly, that was not an exclusively humanitarian cause, involving as it did Persian Gulf oil supplies and a blatant violation of international borders. Sudan is a test not of our willingness to defend our interests, but of our willingness to use our immense influence to stop the slaughter of innocents, slave raids, and a scorched earth policy.

The new administration and the new president are being asked, What is American power for? In the nineteenth century, Great Britain was the nation most closely associated with human rights principles, and it was widely admired for that reason. Indeed, its greatness lay not only in its naval guns, but in its willingness to use its power to advance its principles. Great Britain almost single-handedly eliminated the slave trade in mid-century, expending large sums (and dedicating about a tenth of its naval power) in the effort. Today, we are the nation most closely associated with human rights and human dignity, and we are the world's most powerful country. Just as the British could not eliminate slavery by snapping their fingers, but instead had to undertake a long campaign, so we cannot "solve" Sudan's problems all at once. But two million Sudanese have died already, and southern Sudan is littered with the ruins of schools and clinics and churches. A serious American effort can diminish the evil. What kind of America would refuse to try?

Elliott Abrams is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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